August 21, 2018 / 8:29 AM / 3 months ago

Greek Prime Minister heads to Ithaca at end of bailout journey

ATHENS, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras headed to the Greek island of Ithaca on Tuesday in a gesture laden with classical symbolism as the country emerges from nine years of crisis and international financial bailouts.

The island was home to Odysseus, who found his way home from the Trojan war after a 10-year voyage lost at sea, recounted in Homer’s epic poem.

Tsipras is due to give a state address from the island, a day after Greece ended its third bailout deal with international creditors who have bankrolled the country in return for tough reforms and austerity monitored by their inspectors since 2010.

“We are not saying that all problems have been solved because we exited the bailout, we will not celebrate,” deputy economy minister Alexis Haritsis told state tv ERT. “But it is a significant day and it is a success to manage to get out of a tough surveillance.”

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who applied for the first bailout from Greece’s euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund in April 2010, also drew on the Odyssey analogy at the time.

“We are on a difficult path, a new odyssey for Greece and for the Greek nation,” Papandreou said at the time. “But we know the way to Ithaca, and we have charted the waters in our quest.”

Austerity and political turmoil followed, shrinking the economy by a quarter, pushing a third of the population into poverty and forcing the migration of thousands abroad.

Another two bailouts followed in 2012 and 2015. In all, the 288 billion euros ($330 billion) Greece has borrowed is the largest bailout in history, saddling the country with debt the equivalent of 180 percent of its annual economic output.

In the coming years, Greece will have to maintain primary budget surpluses - excluding debt repayments - and further cuts in pensions may be made in 2019.

One newspaper also referred to the long voyage of Odysseus. “Even after Ithaca we will still be rowing,” the daily Ethnos said on its front page. ($1 = 0.8744 euros) (Reporting By Michele Kambas and George Georgiopoulos, writing by Michele Kambas; editing by David Stamp)

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